Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Lackawanna College Students to Participate in Hemp Research Project to Test If Plant Can Grow in Coal Waste

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Lackawanna College Students to Participate in Hemp Research Project to Test If Plant Can Grow in Coal Waste

Article excerpt

SCRANTON, Pa. - Hemp is coming to Lackawanna County.

The state recently awarded a hemp research permit to Lackawanna College and the nonprofit U.S. Ecological Advanced Research & Conservation Hub in Mayfield for the two entitites to grow and explore potential industrial uses of hemp, the college announced.

Hemp cultivation and research will take place at the Northeast Environmental Technology Center greenhouse and lab in Mayfield. Students from Lackawanna College's new Sustainable Agriculture program will participate in the research and work.

The hemp initiative will have a decidedly Northeast Pennsylvania focus by tapping into the area's mining past.

The research will test whether hemp can grow with acid mine water irrigation and on land containing culm, or coal waste.

If successful, hemp could help remediate old environmental problems and provide a new agricultural growth path, said Dan Summa, executive director of USEARCH.

Researchers will tap acid mine water from a well drilled deep under the property to learn whether hemp can grow with tainted and reclaimed mine water, Mr. Summa said.

Some hemp seedlings started in the lab and greenhouse will be transplanted into nearby culm land to determine if hemp can thrive in the old coal waste dirt.

The research will ask, "Can we grow [hemp] using abandoned acid mine water, or cleaned up acid mine drainage water, and can we grow it on compromised [culm] soil," Mr. Summa said.

"That's going to be the challenge, to see if we can grow it in culm land," said Ray Angeli of the Northeast Environmental Technology Center.

High hopes

Hemp also will be planted in a half-acre field plot on the center's site.Planting is not yet underway because researchers are still trying to obtain hemp seeds with federal approval.

They believe the research project could be a step toward bringing an environmentally sustainable product back to the American landscape and restoring it as an agricultural and economic boon.

"We have high hopes for it," Mr. Angeli said. "And, that's what the research will do. The research will [presumably] say it grows here; and then let the agricultural industry take it from there."

Once prevalent in America, hemp has been used for thousands of years globally as a source of fiber and food. A versatile plant, hemp is relatively easy to grow and adaptable to many different climate and soil conditions.

In Colonial times and early America, Pennsylvania produced large hemp crops, used for products ranging from rope to cloth to paper to sails. Oil from hemp seeds was used in paints, varnishes and soaps. George Washington grew hemp on his farms.

Hemp was grown commercially in the United States until the 1930s, when it was curtailed by the Marijuana Tax Act. It was outlawed in 1970 by the Controlled Substances Act.

But hemp and marijuana are different varieties of cannabis and differ in key respects. Marijuana has high levels of the psychoactive plant chemical delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the agent that produces a high.

Hemp has only trace amounts of THC, or less than three-tenths of 1 percent. A person cannot get high from hemp.

"The best way to think about it is they're in the same family, but entirely different, like a chimpanzee and a human," Mr. Summa said.

The Drug Enforcement Agency and Food and Drug Administration still consider hemp a Schedule 1 substance, and therefore illegal. Seeds cannot be brought in from other states. Pennsylvania has received federal approval for importation of hemp seeds from other countries for approved research projects.

The 2014 federal farm bill opened the door to limited legal growth of industrial hemp as part of agricultural research pilot programs. The law provided a research framework and instructed states to build their own regulatory programs. As a result, hemp laws may vary from state to state.

25,000 uses

Hemp's nascent revival stems from Pennsylvania's Industrial Hemp Research Act of 2016, which allows individual growers and higher education institutions contracting with the state Department of Agriculture to apply for permits to grow industrial hemp for research. …

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